The Evolution of Mass Media
and Health Persuasion Models
Ellen A. Wartella and Patricia A. Stout
University of Texas at Austin
Over the past 25 years there has been an enormous growth of interest in the role of the mass media in promoting healthy behavior through persuasive media campaigns. Within communication research, this specialty is today called health communication. Health communication is a multifaceted and complex area. Topics include clienffprovider communication, issues related to developmental communication, media coverage of health issues and media content, campaign message design issues and their relationship to social values, information, and power, among others. Although these topics in health communication are of obvious relevance to the promotion of health behavior, they are beyond the scope of this chapter and are not reviewed here.
In this chapter, we look instead at the recent development of approaches to the study of mass media in health campaigns through a historical lens, placing the recent growth of health communication study in historical context. Although health communication as a subspecialty of communication research is fairly young, the study of media's role in persuasion and health campaigns is much older and goes back at least to the early 20th century. We review the role of earlier studies of communication campaigns for their impact on the study of and use of mass media in the promotion of health behavior. All of this is intended to set the stage for an overview of the current characteristics of successful health communication campaigns, some of which are described and evaluated in the chapters that follow in this volume.
The argument we make is simple: A reconsideration of the power of mass media to influence audiences occurred in the 1970s and, when cou-